Craig Tranter is a former educator, and now serves as a technology presenter for Cisco. This blog is the sixth in his series on advancements and opportunities in education. All views are his own. 

Last time you were introduced to Cisco Spark, so I hope you followed the link and downloaded the free version? What do you mean “no?” Here’s the link again.

Go ahead and download the app. No, no, it’s fine, I’ll wait…

Now that you have the app, you can start using it straight away. And, for the “power users” out there, you’ll be interested in integrations and bots to really kick things up a notch and make your life easier.

So what is the difference between integrations and bots?

An integration with the Cisco Spark client basically works as a one-way street. You can link specific services and they will automatically update the selected Cisco Spark chat spaces with key information. For example, let’s say you have the Box File Sharing Integration. If you upload a file to a specific Box folder, the integration will automatically share a link to that document in the selected Cisco Spark chat space, meaning you don’t have to mess around with copying and pasting links.

Bots on the other hand are a two-way street. You can ask bots questions and they will go and retrieve that information for you. Here’s just a couple of examples that I’ve seen used in universities to date:

  • Study Assistant Bot
    – Simply add this bot to a chat space and type @studybot followed by your query. You could ask anything about your current courses, teachers’ availability, reading lists, timetables, room bookings etc.
  • Translate Bot
    – Simply add this bot to a chat space and type @tofrenchbot followed by ‘the text you want to translate’. This will automatically look up the translation on Google Translate and post the message into your chat.

These bots can be linked to any database to retrieve the desired data automatically.

You can find existing integrations and bots here, and if you’re a bit more ‘techy’ you can even develop your own here.

Remember that all of this can be linked to your LMS, so there’s no need to throw out the system that you know and love just yet. As my colleague and friend, Dr Lance Ford likes to say, it’s great to embrace new technologies, but don’t forget to “rock what you’ve got.”

The next step is Artificial Intelligence (AI). Stephen Hawking has said that true AI will inevitably take over the world, but you may not realize that we already have some basic forms of AI in our smart phones and other devices.

Siri, Cortana, Alexa, Google Assistant and Watson are the forerunners of this digital revolution and are quickly becoming an everyday part of people’s lives. I don’t think I could survive without saying “Hey Siri, remind me to buy milk today.”

As Siri is linked with all your native apps on your iPhone, students could take full advantage of this by asking something like “Hey Siri, what time does my French class start today?”

It’s the little things that make these personal assistants so powerful.

They are undoubtedly very clever programs, but fear not, none of these are going to pass the Turing Test, so Skynet is not going to be taking over the world any time soon (if you don’t know that reference, why not try asking Siri “What’s Skynet?”). There’s no doubt that, much like how the introduction of touch screen technology changed the way we interact with our devices, machine learning and artificial intelligence is likely to be the next major development that will reshape the digital world. However, until AI grows into its maturity, the next big thing that many large tech companies seem to be focussing on is virtual and augmented reality.

Watch out for the next post about virtual and augmented reality.


Craig Tranter

Technology Presenter at Cisco